Serie A has proved a graveyard for the once mighty in recent years. Both Inter and AC Milan now find themselves struggling mid-table in 10th and 11th positions respectively, having once been at the pinnacle of Italian football, competing for domestic and European titles on a regular basis. No doubt the reason for this lies with their owners’ poor management of finances, and buying players that their clubs could not afford. While things are starting to look up at Inter with the imposition of Erick Thohir in the boardroom and club favourite Roberto Mancini back in the dugout, AC find themselves in a damaging spiral of poor results and manager sackings. Even club legend Clarence Seedorf could not escape the chop at the end of last season, while his replacement (perhaps an even bigger legend if that is at all possible) Filippo Inzaghi finds himself under increasing pressure. Having lost 3-1 to dominant champions Juventus and drawn 1-1 with struggling Empoli in his last two games, what then is going wrong at AC and what is being done to correct it?
Everything at the San Siro these days is but a shadow of its former self. Gone are the great coaches like Ancelotti to be replaced by inexperienced fans favourites. The love for one of the most historic stadiums in world football also seems to have gone with plans for a new one recently unveiled. Most crucially however, the playing staff are simply not of the standard of the old. Easy parallels can be drawn with Manchester United here. Much like the loss of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, AC Milan have in recent times lost Pirlo – still one of the best playmakers in Europe – to one of their biggest competitive rivals. Added to which Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso and Seedorf have all retired, meaning AC have lost a strong nucleus of players who understood the majesty of wearing Milan’s black and red.
Money troubles have also seen the sale of Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva, players who at one time have all ranked among the best of the world. Whilst a period of such change would never be easy, the standard of their replacements has simply not been good enough. To expect players such as an injury-prone Michael Essien, inconsistent Sulley Muntari and ageing Alex to replace club legends is short-sighted. Like so many others, the powers that be at Milan have fallen into the trap of signing big name players, on high wages, who unfortunately are not quite as good as they once were.
As an aside to all of this, matters off the field have been hindered by alleged comments made by former manager Arrigo Sacchi. Having turned a lack of Italians in Italian youth football into a race issue, his misguided words will no doubt bring another large cloud of negative press over the club.
Before Milan are totally written off however, there is hope. Young talent is rising through the ranks at San Siro; it is just a case of whether such potential can reach maturity. Mattia De Sciglio & Stephan El Sharaawy have already both burst into the first team, but now must be carefully guided by the likes of Abate and Mexes in order to develop into regulars for club and country. M’Baye Niang signed for Milan despite hot competition and is currently learning his trade on loan at Genoa. The academy also boasts one of the hottest prospects in European football right now, with the exciting Hachim Mastour gaining more and more press as he progresses.
From youth players to first team players, things are looking up. The recent January transfer window saw Inzaghi given a real chance to flex the club’s pulling power. Right throughout the team, he has added quality and strength in depth. Instead of a misfiring Fernando Torres (now admittedly happier at home in Madrid) he has brought in one of Serie A’s hottest prospects upfront in Mattia Destro. Paired with Giampaolo Pazzini, Inzaghi can create an effective partnership of raw talent and desire, coupled with experience and nous to guide the younger player through games.
Further back, the additions of Salvatore Bocchetti and Gabriel Paletta could well turn out to be shrewd acquisitions. By bringing in Bocchetti on loan, Inzaghi has found himself a centre-back (capped five times for Italy) who not only addresses a lack of pace at centre-half, but will also be desperate to impress having been given the chance to make his name at a big club in his homeland. He will be well aware that playing in Russia for the past few years will have done nothing for his prospects in the national team, and by helping drag his new club up the league he can gain further caps and maybe even a permanent deal at one of Italy’s biggest clubs.
The most impressive piece of business pulled off by Milan however, is the capture of Alessio Cerci from Atletico Madrid. Having finished last season with 13 goals and 11 assists, he helped Torino to a 7th place finish in Serie A in only their second consecutive season in the top flight. As second top goal scorer for Torino, only behind the impressive Ciro Immobile last season, fans of the Rossoneri will hope this versatile winger-cum-forward will provide goals an assists they have sadly been lacking so far this year. Increased competition for these places should spur El Sharaawy and Menez onto better performances too.
The common theme with Inzaghi’s additions is that they have nearly all played in Serie A before, except for Suso from Liverpool, meaning they know the tactical nature and footballing philosophies of Italy. This is a clever ploy from the boss to help improve one of the league’s lesser away records and turn San Siro back into the fortress of old.
Evidently, there is hope for Milan this season. Despite being sat in a lowly 11th position, they are only five points away from a European place as things stand. These new additions, coupled with fresh blood from the academy should provide enough ammunition to fire Milan back into the European spots in Serie A. Breaking Juventus’ domination of the league is still some way away, but by regaining Europa league status now and Champions League football later, Milan can learn from the mistakes of old. They can then use the extra income to replace the likes of Alex and Essien properly, whose time at the top is coming to an end.
This can all be achieved as long as the board maintain composure and give Inzaghi enough time to implement his ideas. As one of Milan’s greatest ever strikers, he should be afforded that more than most, enabling this sleeping red dragon to strike fear into the hearts of Europe and compete for trophies once more.
For more from Simon, visit www.thefansview0311.blogspot.co.uk/